The Delaware Senate approved a bill Thursday which will gradually increase the state's minimum wage to $15 hourly by 2025, and now the House will review the legislation and determine what's next.
The Labor committee sent the bill to the floor for a full Senate vote Wednesday, and the Senate approved the bill Thursday with a vote of 14 for, 7 against, with Democrats all voting in favor of increasing Delaware's minimum wage, and Republicans all voting against it.
"This legislation boils down to one principle: someone who puts in a hard day's work deserves to earn enough to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. Frankly, they deserve what previous generations of low-wage earners have had: a living wage," said Sen. Jack Walsh, the bill's primary sponsor. "Yet corporate interests continue to band together to keep the minimum wage in Delaware so low that people have no hopes of getting ahead, no matter how hard they work."
In the House, the bill faces greater challenges. With 21 votes necessary to pass the legislation in the House, only 18 Democratic representatives have signed onto the bill.
Walsh attempted to counter some of the same old arguments he said he'd heard made previously--that minimum wage earners are young people working their first job.
"According to the Economic Policy Institute, 63% of minimum wage earners in this country are older than 25," he said. "Sixty percent of low-wage workers are women, 51% are people of color, and 50% are working full-time. Minimum wage earners are farm workers, or grocery store workers, or janitors, or delivery drivers; the men and women who care for our children and seniors every day, and even some of our state employees."
The state pays 3,000 employees at the minimum wage level, Walsh said, and pointed out the issue disproportionately impacts people of color, particularly single mothers. He noted 40% of all Delaware workers earn minimum wage, including nearly half of all Hispanic workers.
"The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates the average renter in Delaware needs to make $17.83," Walsh said. "According to them, at [the current minimum wage of] $9.25 an hour, a low-wage worker has to work 70 hours a week just to afford a one bedroom rental at fair market rent."
With the legislation, the first increase takes place in a jump to $10.50 by 2022, rising annually until it ultimately hits $15 in 2025.
Senator Brian Pettyjohn disagreed with Walsh's presented facts that minimum wage workers were not young people, citing he knew this because his daughter is one, and he used to be one. Therefore, wage increases should be reserved for people who "prove" themselves.
"Trying to equate a youth worker with a living wage is trying to draw a parallel to something that really is inaccurate. [Walsh was] saying that it wasn't our youth workers. Well, yeah, it is our youth workers. I worked a minimum wage job when I was in high school, when I was in college. But I didn't stay at minimum wage for very long because I did things to prove myself."
Southern Kent County Senator Colin Bonini (R-Dist. 16) said his disagreements leaned more toward the economic side, saying there will be hidden costs the crafters of this legislation were unable to anticipate, including thousands of jobs he said might not return as Delaware attempts to recover from the effects of a global pandemic.
"I'm concerned that raising the minimum wage, especially at this time, is just more pressure that those jobs aren't going to come back," Bonini said. "Delaware's economy, as is, is nowhere near where we'd all like it to be, and quite frankly, by some measures, it's one of the worst in the country. Unfortunately Delaware has, over the years, become a place that is perceived as hostile to job growth and to business. And, unfortunately, I think this is going to add to that to that reputation."
That's another argument Newark-area Senator Dave Sokola (D-Dist. 8) said he's heard before, but data provides a different story.
"I've heard the same arguments, every single time. I've heard they're job killers," he said. "Interestingly, that was the biggest emphasis point in 2013 and 2014 and 2015--minimum wage increases which happened to coincide with the two years that, back-to-back, had the largest employment increase in the history of the state of Delaware."
The bill, ultimately, had the support it needed.
"I appreciate everybody on both sides of the testimony today," Walsh said. "But the bottom line with this bill is you either agree with it or disagree with it, right?"
An easy dismissal in the Senate, but as it heads to the House, it faces a steeper fight for passage.